Save Sandown Raceway

Sandown Park Raceway might not be well-known internationally, but it is an important part of Australian motorsport. Located in Springvale, in south east Melbourne, Sandown is the world's only permanent metropolitan international racing circuit. Being a metropolitan circuit, it is under constant threat being sold for property development. It is being kept alive by a contract with Supercars to host the 500km endurance round that lasts until 2019. Without government intervention, the Melbourne Racing Club will likely sell Sandown. Sandown might not be important as a horse racing venue anymore, but it remains an important part of Victoria’s motorsport culture and heritage that has been under-utilised.

Sandown Park first opened as a horse racing circuit in the late 19tn century but was later closed under a government rationalisation program. Following the second world war, redevelopment began. The new facility would incorporate a bitumen motor racing circuit around the outside of the proposed horse racing track. Sandown Park Motor Raceway opened in 1962. In 1962, it hosted the Sandown International Cup, which ran into the 1970s and attracted some of the world's best drivers. If also hosted the Australian Grand Prix six times between 1964 and 1978, when it was part of the Tasman Series. The Australian Grand Prix was contested by Australia’s best drivers and International drivers such as Bruce McLaren and Jackie Stewart.  Winners included Lex Davison, Jack Brabham and Jim Clark, Graham McRae and John Goss.

Jim Clark, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham on the front row at the 1968 Australian Grand Prix

Jim Clark, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham on the front row at the 1968 Australian Grand Prix

Sandown is most famous for it's endurance racing. September 1964, it hosted the its first endurance touring car race, the Sandown 6 Hour International. The 6 Hour lasted two years. In 1968 the endurance race returned as the Datsun 3 Hour, becoming the Sandown 250 in1970, the 400 in 1976 and finally the Sandown 500 in 1984. The 500km Bathurst warmup race has been held at Queensland Raceway and Phillip Island on a few occasions, but it is synonymous with Sandown, which has held it the vast majority of the time. In three of the eight years where the touring car 500 went elsewhere, the Sandown 500 was run for sports cars (2001 and 02) and production cars (2011).

Peter Brock was not just King of the Mountain, but King of Sandown, too. He won the 400 an incredible seven times in a row from 1975 to 1981. He has won the Sandown endurance race a total of nine times. Allan Moffat is the only driver to have won the race as a 3 hour, 250, 400 and 500km. The only format he didn't win Sandown in was the original 6 hour. .

As well as being an Australian touring car staple, Sandown is the only racing circuit in Australia to have hosted a World Sportscar Championship race. The 1984 Sandown 1000 was the final round of the 1984 World Sportscar Championship. Although a 1000km race, it was time certain with a six hour limit. The race was won by Stefan Bellof and Derek Bell in a Rothmans Porsche 956, completing 206 laps. Their team-mates were the Australian pairing of Vern Schuppan and Alan Jones who finished 8th. John Fitzpatrick's Team Australia, who competed at Le Mans that year with Peter Brock and Larry Perkins, entered a Porsche 962 for Colin Bond and Andrew Miedecke, finishing sixth.

If you ever have the chance to go to the Sandown 500, go. It's not Bathurst, but there's still something special about it. There's a sense of occasion that the Supersprint don't have. Being in Melbourne, with its own train station, it draws in a big crowd over the three days. Aside from a few park and view spectators on the hill on the east side, everyone is in the grandstand or trackside on the main straight. Almost all of the track is visible from the grandstand. The atmosphere is as close as Australian motorsport gets to stadium sports, or NASCAR. Usually the crowd is divided along manufacturer or team lines, but not always. Last year it seemed everyone was behind Garth Tander, as he held off Shane van Gisbergen under the looming threat of a mechanical black flag for a front fender sticking out and threatening to fall off..

It's difficult to imagine the 500 having a permanent home without Sandown. New South Wales and Queensland already have Supercars endurance rounds, South Australia has its flagship round in the Clipsal 500, and the other states are too small. That leaves Victoria. Phillip Island is too hard to get to, Winton doesn't have the facilities and is too far from Melbourne, and Calder Park is in disrepair. Inevitably Phillip Island will get it, and we’d end up with an event that just isn't as good.

Phillip Island isn't much of a spectator's track and is hard to get to

Phillip Island isn't much of a spectator's track and is hard to get to

Also inevitable is Supercars’ search for a replacement third Victorian round resulting in a street circuit. Melbourne's out. The Sydney experiment didn't work, and it's hard to see Melbourne going any better. Regional cities work well for Supercars, because they become the biggest event in town. Geelong would be perfect, but the state government has ruled it out. Bendigo is next on the list. It has a large population, and is equidistant between Melbourne, Ballarat and Shepparton. But wherever you have a street race, it will always be more expensive and disruptive than Sandown. A city losing access to certain streets for a week is worse than a few residents having some noise a few weekends a year. Being permanent and metropolitan, Sandown is unique in offering benefits of both permanent and street circuits. Don't let it go it's irreplaceable.

Critics, mostly Springvale and Dandenong residents, will tell you it's noisy, those pessimistic about its future will point to noise restrictions. Sandown turns 55 this year. That means residents either arrived after the circuit, or have lived there for longer than 55 years. Australia has well documented problem of people moving in next to live music venues and complaining about the noise. The venue then gets shut down. Now it's happening to Sandown. If you moved in after 1962, it's your own fault. You decided to live next to a race track, what do you expect? If you've been there since before 1962, why are you still there? It's been 55 years, move on. It wouldn't be fair to disrupt people's lives with noise all the time, so there should be restrictions on the number of events that can be held at Sandown each year.

Currently that number is five. The Shannon's Nationals, two rounds of the Victorian state championships, the Sandown 500 and Historic Sandown. Surely that number could be raised so that the Easternats could be revived and the Australian Endurance Championship could have a Sandown 101 GT3 race.

A standalone Australian GT Endurance Championship round at Sandown would prove popular

A standalone Australian GT Endurance Championship round at Sandown would prove popular

There are also a number of quieter events that Sandown could run. They already have the Melbourne Caravan Show there, why not have other outdoor exhibitions there?

And is Sandown Raceway really worse than the alternative? In its place would be a series of cheap and nasty apartment buildings, whose residents could see into the backyards of existing Springvale and Dandenong residents. At best we'd have an estate full of McMansions. Either way, there would be an increase in traffic, and trains would have more passengers. This wouldn't just affect the local area, but everyone using the Pakenham line to get to the city. Sandown annoys a few thousand people people a few times a year. A housing estate or apartment complex will be an inconvenience for hundreds of thousands every single day.

Why should the state government get involved? Well aside from needing to preserve some of Melbourne's heritage, Sandown is an ideal location for driver training. The Victorian government doesn't realise just how lucky they are in that regard. Private companies use Sandown for defensive driver training, but the Victorian government, unlike New South Wales, isn't involved. The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) claims that road deaths cost $10 million each. If the government started funding driver training at Sandown it would almost certainly pay for itself through a reduction in the road toll.

There are three ways the government could help. The first is by heritage listing Sandown. It's certainly worthy of it. This would keep the circuit around indefinitely, but there is one massive drawback. It would have to be maintained more or less as-is. That means off track facilities could never be upgraded. More importantly, it means safety upgrades to meet FIA International circuit standards would not be allowed. In the short term, that's no big deal. But in the long term, it would mean that GT3 and FT5000 cars can no longer race there. Then Supercars will go. Once Supercars have permanently departed, Sandown would go the way of Calder Park. The government would need to create a new class of heritage listing that allows for any upgrades necessary to allow Sandown to carry on as an international circuit.

The second option involves Caulfield Racecourse. Caulfield Racecourse sits on crown land, the land is on is owned by the government. Caulfield is a much more important venue to the MRC, it is their home and it holds larger horse racing events, so the government could use it to save Sandown. It could work out a couple of different ways. The government could make keeping Sandown going a condition of the land lease for Caulfield. They wouldn't be able to charge as much, but there would be economic benefits to keeping Sandown for the state government, namely TAC savings and taxes paid by driver training companies. Alternatively, and perhaps more dramatically, they could arrange a land swap. The MRC takes Caulfield and gives Sandown in return.

The third option would be to buy Sandown when the time comes. They wouldn't have to buy all of it. There are other interested parties such as CAMS, Supercars, Tony Quinn (owner of the Australian GT Championship and Aussie Racing Cars), and the MRC. The government could agree to become a minority owner of Sandown along with two other owners who stand to benefit from a motor racing circuit in Melbourne.

Sandown is too valuable an asset for Melbourne and Victoria to lose. There's a petition that I urge you to sign (link below). Sandown also happens to be in Premier Daniel Andrews' electorate. If you happen to live there, send him a letter. Even if you live in a neighbouring electorate, or a marginal electorate anywhere in Victoria, make sure the premier or your state MP knows you want Sandown to be saved. Don't let it quietly disappear like Oran Park.